Bride of the Water God

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Bride of the Water God
Cover of the Dark Horse Comics edition of Bride of the Water God vol. 1 (2007). Art by Yun Mi-kyung.
하백의 신부
(Habaek's Bride)
Genre
Author Yun Mi-kyung
Publisher South Korea Seoul Munhwasa
English publisher United States Dark Horse Comics

Magazine South Korea Wink
Original run 2006 – Present
Collected volumes 23

Bride of the Water God (하백의 신부 "Habaek-eui Shinbu") is a sunjung manhwa (comics targeted towards girls) by Yun Mi-kyung.

Story Summary[edit]

Soah is a girl from a small village suffering from a long, devastating drought. In order to appease the Water God, the most beautiful girl from the village must be sacrificed. Soah is chosen to become Habaek's bride, but instead of dying at the hands of a monster, she is unexpectedly rescued by Habaek and brought to his Kingdom.

As Soah learns to live in a strange new world filled with gods, she is caught up in various intrigues surrounding Habaek and finds it increasingly difficult to know whom she can trust. In the midst of such trouble, she finds she has fallen in love with Mui, unaware that he is the true form of Habaek.

Characters[edit]

Main characters[edit]

Soah (소아)

A girl from a small village chosen as the sacrifice to please the Water God, Habaek. When she was a child, she was prophesized to love two men in her life. She finds herself attracted to Mui, who she believes is Habaek's cousin, unaware that Habaek and Mui are the same person. Soah refers to herself as a false bride; it is revealed that her father sold her to take the place of another girl intended for sacrifice. Her uncertainty towards Mui and fear of trusting him results in her becoming a pawn for the emperor of the gods to use against Habaek. She learns the true circumstances behind her husband's curse when Habaek's father actually sends her into the past to see for herself how Habaek is cursed by Nakbin to take the form of a child by day, but is unable to learn how to break the curse. Although with Mura out of the way she now has access to the Peach from the Divine Orchard tree (Bando), she no longer wants to consume it to become a God. This is because she hears the story of a goddess who turned her human lover into a God, but killed him with her own hands because he became insane due to his weak human mind.

Habaek (Hangul: 하백, Hanja: 河伯 (Hébó); lit. Count of River)

The Water God, a temperamental deity who has not allowed rain to fall in Soah's village for many years and required a yearly offering of the most beautiful woman as a bride. He is a child by day (Habaek) and an adult (Mui) by night, with his powers being reduced in the presence of heat or sunlight due to the curse cast by his first love. Habaek is able to use pools of water to see anything as long as it is reflected in the water. Soah recognizes the child as her husband, but is unaware of his transformations. Despite his unpredictable nature, he is actually kindhearted, which has caused him troubles. He was deeply in love with his first wife, Nakbin, and promised to return to her no matter what form she may reincarnate and his continued longing and inability of letting her go even after her death and even when he falls in love with Soah, caused insecurities and troubles to his current bride.

The Water Country[edit]

Hu-ye (후예)

The commander of the Water Kingdom, also famed for being the best archer in the realm of gods. He appears to be loyal to Habaek, particularly after an unspoken incident involving Nakbin in the past. However, as of Volume 5, he appears to be under a 'contract' of some sort with the Emperor, concerning Soah. On her arrival in the Water Kingdom, Soah at first mistakes him for the Water God, and later comes to rely on him as a confidante and friend, which makes Habaek jealous, more so since Hoo-ye is attracted to her. Though Habaek seems to trust him, the Water God is well-aware that Hoo-ye previously served the Emperor. He is later revealed to be Nakbin's brother and also the son of the Emperor. Because he loved Nakbin dearly, he is tricked into believing that Habaek is responsible for Nakbin's death, though in truth, Nakbin had actually killed herself.
After Soah is captured by the emperor, she is reintroduced to Habaek as Hoo-ye's betrothed in the Imperial Country until she is abducted by Bi Ryeom and Ju-dong. When Hoo-ye arrives at the Lunar Palace to abduct Dong-Wang-Kong, he attempts to take Soah away. He realizes his love for her is unrequited when she refuses to leave with him and that their relationship parallels the emperor's own love for Suh-wang-mo. However, Hoo-ye sees his father's actions to be destroying himself, rather than destroying Suh-wang-mo, whom he wanted to destroy because he can't have her.

Mura (무라)

The Witch of Chung Yo Mountains, who resides in the Water Kingdom and is knowledgeable with herbs and potions. She is in love with Habaek, who referred to her as a "goddess" out of kindness; however, because her love is unreciprocated, she resents Soah. She is especially adverse to Yeo-wa when she appears in the Water Kingdom with Nakbin's appearance. Mura was previously involved in schemes with the Emperor against Habaek and her loyalties remain ambiguous. Like several characters, she seems to know more than she is willing to tell Soah and appears to have her own agenda. Later on, Mura burned down the Peach Tree of the Divine Orchard, a tree that could give immortality. She intentionally picks the last fruit, so that Habaek would look for her. Though she asks Habaek to kill her when they met, she instead dies at Bi Ryeom's hand, whom she requested to kill her knowing that Habaek would not have the heart to.

Ju-dong (주동)

The God of Fire. He loves everything that is cute. He once stole a peach from Suh-wang-mo's garden 400 years ago. In the Emperor's war against Shin Nong, Ju-dong had hoped to be on the opposite side of Habaek in order to learn if he was stronger than Habaek. In the present, he appears to be allied with Habaek and also Bi Ryeom; with the latter, Ju-dong makes an attempt to escape the Emperor's palace with Habaek, but the gods are forced to leave with only Soah.

Yo-hee, Heedaein, Musanshinnyeo (요희)

A goddess who is friendly to, and very fond of, Soah, going to the extent of rebuking Habaek for sending her away without warning and going to see her without taking anyone else along. Although she appears and behaves like an immature child, she is several thousand years old and is actually the mother of both Shin Nong and the current Emperor of the Gods. When it was prophesized that her sons would destroy another, Yo-hee refused to kill one son over the other, which eventually led to the war between the gods. Although Yo-hee has the ability to see the future, the only fates she cannot see are those of Soah and Habaek.

Tae-eul-jin-in (Hangul: 태을진인, Hanja: 太乙真人 (Tàiyǐ Zhēnrén))

A doctor and inventor in the Water Kingdom, a relatively recent inhabitant to the realm. He appears cordial and at times comic, but is perceptive and secretive. He appears to have his own motives regarding Habaek and Mura warns Soah not to trust Tae-eul-jin-in so readily. It is revealed that he is the one who taught Nakbin how to put the curse on Habaek and only the person who placed the curse may be the one to lift it. Thus every year, a bride is sacrificed so that the reincarnated Nakbin would be able to return to the water country and lift the curse. Habaek knows that if he demands this sacrifices from humans, he will be thought of as an evil god and be hated by the people. Nevertheless, Habaek is willing to bear the condemnation in order to see Nakbin again. To make sure that only brides who are Nakbin will enter the water kingdom, Tae-eul-jin-in has erected a barrier that so that any brides who are not Nakbin will not be able to enter but perish in the waves. This causes Soah to wonder how is it that she was able to enter the Water Country, despite the fact she is not Nakbin's reincarnation. He is revealed to be the Dragon King of the Royal Clan, who is supposed to serve Habaek; however, Tae-eul-jin-in remarks that he holds no actual allegiance to anyone but who he happens to choose and he intends to see if Habaek is worthy of him.

Suh-wang-mo, Yanghee (Hangul: 서왕모, Hanja: 西王母 (Xiwangmu))

The Queen Mother of the West and the Goddess of Death, she is Habaek's mother, a beautiful woman who is centuries old. She is the Goddess of Punishment, Torture, and Disease, though ironically, she is also the Goddess of Love and Beauty. Her vast lands contain the Divine Orchard, where a rare peach tree grows with fruit that can grant a human 18 000 years of life. Habaek also does not appear to get along with her, though she seems to only want her son to be happy and wishes to protect him from the Emperor at all costs, even suggesting to the Emperor that she would bring him the life of Shin Nong, the previous emperor, if he would let her son go. In her youth, she and the Emperor had been companions because their powers tended to ostracize them; it is implied that the Emperor had loved her, though Suh-wang-mo fell in love with Dong Wang Kong instead. She has a rather absent minded servant named Cheong Jo.

Yook-oh (육오)

A grandfatherly butler who serves the Water God. He previously served Habaek's mother and has known her since she was a child. His devotion to Suh-wang-mo and Habaek is unmatched and he only wishes for their happiness.

Yu-hwa

The first daughter of Soah and Habaek, who possesses a strong resemblance to her mother. In the visions of the future known by the Emperor, Yu-hwa is said to be the child that Habaek loves most and she loves and admires her father greatly. Before Yu-hwa's birth, Soah had left Habaek in order to fulfill a promise to Suh-wang-mo; as a result, Yu-hwa and Habaek are initially unaware of one another. Because she was raised without a father, she is scorned by many children. Though she admires Hoo-ye and wishes that he were her father as he is the only paternal figure in her life, she is happily united with her father after the Emperor's attempts to abduct Yu-hwa fail. She lives with her family in the Water Country, but becomes the subject of gossip as she does not appear to have any divine powers, despite being a half-god.

The Imperial Country[edit]

The Emperor (황제, 皇帝,Hwangjae, 黄帝)

The current Emperor of the Gods, known by the name Hunwon, and referred to as Shin Nong's younger brother. Hwangjae is old Chinese God-Emperor, meaning Yellow Emperor. He first appears in the guise of the dead Nakbin, shocking Soah, who thought that Nakbin had returned. In a later chapter he expresses interest in Soah, going so far as to snatch her out of Hoo-ye's arms. Hoo-ye is seemingly bound to him by a contract that concerns handing Soah over to the Emperor, though Habaek, as her husband, prevents him from taking Soah. He is eventually revealed to be the father of Hoo-ye and Nakbin and had previously been close to Habaek's mother before she married Dong Wang Kong. He schemes to obtain Habaek for the sake of winning a war against Shin Nong, a god who favours humans, while the Emperor despises them.
Despite his cruel capriciousness, the Emperor's bitterness towards others appears to stem from how he would inevitably become distanced from others he cared about. After he believes that his mother, Yo-hee, has rejected him in favour of saving Shin Nong, he befriends Suh-wang-mo because of their mutual loneliness. He falls in love with her, but is disappointed that she does not reciprocate his feelings or take his proposal seriously, instead falling in love with Dong Wang Kong. When Habaek's affinity with water is revealed when he was a child, it had been suggested that Habaek be killed so that his power would not weaken the Fire Gods'. Habaek's mother insisted that she would protect her son at all costs and as a result, Shin Nong declared that no Fire God is allowed to hurt Habaek. Due to this divine, unbreakable covenant that Shin Nong put in effect, the Emperor desires to use Habaek against the Fire gods. Furthermore, knowing that Suh-wang-mo would do anything to protect her son, the Emperor intends to use her against Dong Wang Kong and Shin Nong.

Banwing (반왕)

A masked messenger who serves the Emperor. He wears a mask as a result of Hoo-ye attacking him in the past after Banwing presented a message to Habaek and threatened the Water God and his wife. He has made repeated indirect attempts to capture Soah, including going along with the schemes of Yeo-wa.

Nakbin (낙빈)

Habaek's first love - she is the very reason why every year, a bride must be sacrificed to Habaek. When she died, Habaek promised that he would return to her, no matter what her form is. She was revealed to be the very first person who Habaek met in the human world and initially thought that she was human. Because of her young age, Habaek promised himself that she is to become his bride and waited for her to come of age. After their marriage, Nakbin would often speak of the spider lily, which represents a hopeful but tragic fate for lovers. Hoo-Ye cared for her as she was his sister, she was very attached to him and despised humans for taking advantage of Hoo-ye. While it is suggested that she willingly agreed to marry Habaek as part of Emperor's plans in exchange for saving Hoo-ye from death, her love for Habaek appeared to be genuine, in spite of her stating otherwise. Tired of being a used for all sorts of things and unwilling to kill Habaek, Nakbin cursed him so that his power would diminish during the day so he won't be used against the fire gods, though Habaek commented that she could have just ordered him to die. Nakbin apparently died long ago, though those bearing her appearance continue to appear before Habaek through the emperor's machinations.
Nakbin later appears at the Emperor's palace, alive only due to the Emperor's magic; her body cannot be sustained outside the Imperial Country. While the Emperor's supposition that Habaek's great love for Nakbin will force him to remain in the Imperial Country proved to be absolute, Nakbin chose to let go of Habaek first when he revealed to her that she was not his only bride and that another woman was actually his soul mate, though Habaek would not send Nakbin away. In response, Nakbin angrily refused to release Habaek from his curse and damages his eye. Tired of living an artificial life, she blames Habaek for failing to let go of her as she releases the spell maintaining her life. As she dies at last, Nakbin added that she will forgive him for looking at Soah with his remaining eye which Habaek later on honored by specifically telling Soah that he'll look only at her with his one eye even though his damaged eye has already healed.
Though Nakbin has finally died, it is revealed that her actions in life prevent her rebirth. In order to save Habaek's life after Suh-wang-mo's attempts to kill Soah go awry, Suh-wang-mo agrees to allow Nakbin's rebirth as a human in exchange for a cure from Hoo-yee. A reborn Nakbin appears years later as a cold and distant child with a strained relationship with her mother in particular. When she meets Habaek, she decides to forgive and release him from his curse; shortly afterward, all memories of her past life are erased and she lives the rest of her life with a happier relationship with her family.

Yeo-wa (여와, 女媧)

A crude-mannered woman sacrificed to Habaek as a bride and is rescued by Mui only at Soah's request, Yeo-wa schemes to get rid of Soah and take Habaek for herself. She claims to be the woman who was supposed to be sacrificed to Habaek instead of Soah; when she is sacrificed later, the Emperor gave her Nakbin's appearance to use her against Habaek. However, she genuinely falls in love with Habaek and begins to think she is truly Nakbin, but is eventually killed when she outlives her usefulness.

Mok-rang (목랑)

A young woman whose ability to see the future through her dreams awakened when she was a child. In one dream, she met Habaek, who recognized her as a shaman of water and revealed that he intended to marry Nakbin and that a terrible storm would strike her village. It implied that the Emperor manipulated her into forcing the people of her village to sacrifice Nakbin to Habaek in order to gain Nakbin's loyalty. Mok-rang initially appears as an attendant to the Emperor, going by the name Chunhoo, and holds a grudge against Habaek for apparently causing the deaths of her father and fellow villagers. She is unquestionably loyal to the emperor, but hot-headed and often does not see beyond what appears before her.

The Moon Palace[edit]

Ban Chun Geun, Bi Ryeom (반천근, 비렴)

The God of the Winds and ruler of the West Side Forest, who rescues Soah and Mui when they are stranded in the mountains. He lives in exile for opposing the Emperor in the past. Bi Ryeom is an old acquaintance of Mura, drawn to her by the kindness she showed him when she believed him to be an injured animal. He comes to the Water Kingdom to fulfill a promise Mura had asked of him: to help Habaek as she had helped him. He seems to have feelings for her, though also aware of Mura's unrequited love for Habaek. Despite the risk, Bi Ryeom follows Mura to the Emperor's palace in order to warn Habaek that Soah has been captured by the Emperor. However, when Habaek does not appear to recall Soah and Bi Ryeom is eventually caught by the Emperor, Bi Ryeom stages an elaborate escape and takes Soah with him. He watches over Soah at the Lunar Palace and helps her reconcile with Habaek, and later accompanies them to the Chung Yo Mountains to confront Mura. When Habaek refuses to kill Mura at her request, Bi Ryeom does so instead, to fulfill Mura's last request for him. As Mura lies dying, he reveals his face for the first time, which he once told her would remained concealed unless someone was dying. With Mura's death, he kills himself.

Yeom Jae, Shin Nong (염재, 신농, 神農)

The God of Agriculture and the previous Emperor of the Gods, as the most powerful god. He loves humans and gods equally, which eventually resulted in Hunwon gathering divinities opposed to Shin Nong and overthrowing him. Once Mui's power over water emerged, Shin Nong granted him the title "Habaek" as the God of Water. However, since Shin Nong's own affinity is toward fire, he and his allies retreated to the Moon Palace, where as gods possessing the power of fire, they are strongest. When Hoo-ye attempts to take Soah, he reveals himself and lets Hoo-ye leave the Lunar palace. He tells Habaek he never intended to meet him in the first place, and is too weak to fight against Hunwon now. He and the current emperor are brothers, but their very natures are opposite and it has been foretold that they will destroy each other.

Dong Wang Kong, Busang (동왕공, 東王父, 부상)

The Lord King of the East and the God of Birth and Spring. He is Habaek's father, as well as Shin Nong's closest and dearest friend. Because of his own affinity to fire and his decision to ally with Shin Nong, he has separated from his wife and child, and Habaek has long since believed his father has died. Despite his strong resemblance to Habaek, his temperament is entirely different - Dong Wang Kong is gentle and lax-mannered and has had few encounters with humans. When Hoo-ye comes to the Lunar palace to take Soah away, Mok-rang tries tricking Dong Wang Kang into going back to see Suh-wang-mo. Although he sees through the lie, he goes to where she is anyway to see her one last time.

Human World[edit]

Dong Young

A young man from a wealthy family who has known Soah since childhood. It was intended he would marry Soah, but when Soah is chosen as the substitute for the intended bride to Habaek, the engagement fell through. Though he is in love with Soah, she merely regards him as an older brother figure in her life. When Soah is returned to the human world without any memories of her experience in the Water Country, Dong Young proposes to her and she accepts out of obligation to her family. However, Mui arrives and takes Soah back to the Water Country before her wedding to Dong Young, who seems to give up on Soah because of the supernatural circumstances that spirited her away a second time. When Soah and Habaek return to the human world again, Dong Young decides to take advantage of Mui's cursed condition to win over Soah again.

Woo-Hui

Dong Young's sister. She was the actual intended bride to be sacrificed to Habaek, but her wealthy family paid Soah's family so that Soah would take Woo-Hui's place. Upon seeing the adult Habaek for the first time, she is instantly smitten and confident that she can make him fall in love with her. When she learns that he is Habaek, Woo-Hui admits that she was supposed to be sacrificed to him and makes it clear that she intends to make him love her, even when Mui rejects her without a second thought, because she believes that he would have married her if she had been sacrificed as intended. Because Dong Young is in love with Soah, he encourages Woo-Hui's intention to pursue Habaek.

Source[edit]

The story of the god Habaek is one of the oldest myths in Korea and tells of the god of the great Yalu River. There are two well known stories involving Habaek, one detailed in Bride of the Water God revealed in the memories of Habaek and Hoo-yee and the second regarding the eldest of Habaek's three daughters, Yuhwa.

In fact, many characters in the manhwa is similar to those in Chinese folklore as well. For instance, both Habaek and Hooye have their Chinese counterparts, being Hebo (河伯)and Houyi (后羿)respectively. For another instance, Nakbin, or her Chinese counterpart, Luobin (骆冰)is reminiscent of the famously beautiful daughter of Fuxi (伏羲), one of the greatest and oldest gods in Chinese legends. The background of the Chinese counterparts do not stray far from what the manhwa depicts, but their story arcs greatly differ from their original stories.

There exist another similar story in China, where a court official Shen Gong Bao (申公豹)stopped the yearly sacrificial ritual to the river god (河伯) by exposing the ritual as a fraud by the village head.[citation needed]

Motifs[edit]

Nature

Throughout the series flowers are prevalent in both the art and story. The backgrounds of the majority of the panels are commonly embellished with flower patterns. This assists in drawing attention to several species of flowers and plants that are representative of the separation between lovers. Of the flowers featured, the most prominent one is the Surprise Lily. Nakbin explains to Habaek that "the leaves and flowers yearn for each other. But in the end, they have only their yearnings without ever meeting. Aren't they beautiful? They seem like lovers who are yearning for each other even when they're dead." [1]

While the surprise lily is an obvious metaphor to the tragic love between Nakbin, Yeo-wa is represented by the spider lily which resembles the former but is poisonous.

In chapter 59, Soah introduces Habaek to the Night-blooming Cereus which "is not a flower that can be easily seen... The flower can be seen only one night a year. Because it starts to bloom at night and fades when morning arrives it is sometimes referred to as the 'loneliness of night'". When Habaek attempts to pluck it Soah informs him that "these flowers are paired, and if you pluck a flower from one location, another blossom elsewhere will also die. That is why these flowers are also called the 'love of those who only wish to see each other," and "'the short lived love." [2] This flower invokes not just the potential tragedy of a love with a human which is considered fleeting due to their life span, but the inevitable destiny and necessity of the love between Habaek and Soah.

The destructive but renewative aspects of nature are most predominantly represented by Habaek himself. Most of the gods featured are avatars of natural elements, and Habeak as the water god, exercises a degree of control over the humans. It is his drought that forces the village to sacrifice Soah, and it is his storm that wipes out Mok-rang's village. He makes it clear however that some of his more destructive tendencies are provoked by the humans themselves as they pollute and desecrate the natural environment. Thus, he acts as the embodiment of how ecological responsibility is ultimately in the hands of the humans themselves.

Opposites

The gods are shown to have control of opposing forces as well as being affected by their counterparts. Suh-wang-mo is the goddess of torture, punishment and disease as well as love and beauty. Ju-dong's excitement at the prospect of dueling Habeak is a way for him to explore the potential clash of opposing forces. Additionally, the war between the Hunwon and the former emperor Shin dong is due to their opposite views on humanity wherein the latter is compassionate to them while Hunwon has a distaste. Their personalities showcase this difference, as Hunwon is cunning, dishonest, and power hungry while Shin dong is pensive and compassionate.

Habaek is perhaps the prime example of this duality. His transformations between night and day display the contrast of youth and age. Habaek is weakened by sunlight, but thrives in cool night temperatures. He can cause both rain and the absence of it.

Subterfuge

Numerous characters either hide their intentions or inhabit different identities and this often serves to move the plot. The emperor Hunwon uses a variety of masks to change his appearance to manipulate other parties, such as how he took on the appearance of Nakbin to (for a brief moment) fool Habaek into thinking she had come back. Hu-ye hides his contract with the emperor as well as the fact that he is his father. Nakbin hides her involvement in the plot to destroy Habaek. Yeo-wa uses a disguise and potions to make Habaek think she is the reincarnated Nakbin. Mura aids Yeo-wa's deception in the hopes of furthering her own causes and those of the emporer's. Yo-hee, while being the oldest of the gods, inhabits the body of a teenage girl [3]. Habaek, for most of the first half of the series, hides that he and Mui are the same person from Soah. Soah herself hides the fact that she was a replacement for the real sacrifice until later.

Destiny

The red-string of fate is mentioned several times. First it is mentioned in how Soah will love two men which could refer to her feelings to both Hu-ye and Habaek, or more likely how she loves Habaek, and god that inhabits both a child's body by day and the form of Mui by night. Habaek is later lied to and told that his red string does not connect him to Soah, but this is told to him to force him into recognizing his love for her and spur him into fighting for their love.[4]

Western Parallels[edit]

While the story is inspired and based on Korean mythology, there are certain aspects that are comparable to western civilizations. The feud between the emperor Hunwon and his brother Shin-dong is reminiscent of the biblical story of Cain and Abel where Cain commits the first murder by slaying his brother Abel due to his jealousy.

Habaek's change of appearence from day to night, and his determination to keep his Mui form secret resembles the myth of Cupid and Psyche. The sacrifice of Soah to a terrible monster for the good of her people is comparable to Andromeda's forced sacrifice to the sea monster in the myths of Perseus. Mok-rang's failure to correctly see how her village will be destroyed is an inversion of Cassandra in the Illiad.


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